Do you know how to design and measure a LGBTQIA+1 inclusive market systems development programme?

I didn’t. But thanks to recent conversations with Branden Ryan, Senior GESI Practice Specialist at Chemonics, and Dun Grover, the Deputy Chief of Party of USAID’s TMS Activity, I gained four important insights for designing and measuring an LGBTQIA+ inclusive MSD programme. 

1. Design inclusively from the get-go

Branden explains that if you design inclusively from the start by using tools like the Universal Design principles, interventions will benefit everyone, not just select target groups. He seeks guidance from research in the education field or articles on inclusive design of communications and campaigns to think critically about the diversity of participants or stakeholders the programme is working with, and how to implement inclusive measures across the board.

“Inclusive development is not about whether the system is working for certain actors within a sphere of influence, but whether it is actually working for everyone collectively and holistically to improve where they are.” Branden Ryan

Branden is noticing an increase in MSD and inclusive economic growth programmes implementing LGBTQIA+ inclusive development activities, both within broader inclusion and safeguarding initiatives, or working directly with LGBTQIA+ groups. For example, USAID supported the launch of an e-commerce alliance in the Philippines in 2023 whose inaugural members include the Philippine LGBT Chamber of Commerce. This initiative offers multi-channel extension options such as mobile clinics, demo plots, digital platforms and traditional extension agents that benefits all farmers including LGBTQIA+ farmers who may not feel safe utilising traditional methods of accessing information.

“Providing multiple means for individuals to engage can be translated into a lot of the work we do and lead to broader, more inclusive effects.” Branden Ryan

Another way to boost financial accessibility is to work with financial institutions to develop products for the many LGBTQIA+ borrowers unable to meet traditional collateral requirements and introduce new loan assessment methodologies which consider alternative collateral. This increases access to financial products and services for LGBTQIA+ people as well as other excluded groups, such as women and youth, who also traditionally own less land and have fewer assets.

2. Embed LGBTQIA+ inclusion into broader safeguarding capacity-building efforts

As well as advocating for the integration of LGBTQIA+ members into a more inclusive technical approach, Branden recommends raising awareness about this community through foundational staff training on inclusion and safeguarding. In his experience, unconscious bias training can offer a starting point to raise awareness about LGBTQIA+ people. It usually results in increased staff commitment to working inclusively, which can then inform actionable programming.

“At Chemonics, we regularly facilitate unconscious bias training for staff. We try to embed a conversational aspect because that’s where you often get a lot more of the thought-provoking discussions around the commitments that the whole team can make to working inclusively.” Branden Ryan

However, Branden acknowledges that context informs approach. For example, he finds it easier to talk about third-gender or transgender people in their Southeast Asia programmes because it is more culturally visible and accepted. He advocates for a culturally sensitive and subtle approach to training on LGBTQIA+ inclusive development, starting with building allyship in the initial unconscious bias training and then pivoting to activity implementation. 

3. Align ‘Do No Harm’ with the decision whether (or not) to measure LGBTQIA+ inclusive development

A key component is abiding by the concept of ‘Do No Harm.’ As Dun explains, measuring LGBTQIA+ inclusive development can be difficult, or even unsafe. Dun’s experience with TMS, an inclusive MSD programme with an objective around LGBTQIA+ inclusion, confirms this reality. LGBTQIA+ people may be present but not as visible in a certain sector or activity, given the real concern around privacy and safety. 

“Imagine you are LGBTQIA+, you want to access assistance, and you have a registry form. Do you check the box or not? Will that be beneficial, or will that be harmful? By asking this question, we are asking LGBTQIA+ people to confront this question.” Dun Grover

TMS had to rethink their approach and find innovative ways to engage with these communities to minimise risk. The team first communicated with partners to explain why they are asking questions about LGBTQIA+ populations and then enquired how and when it is appropriate to ask these questions. TMS then offered the opportunity for LGBTQIA+ individuals to voluntarily self-identify in the registry and annual survey.

Branden finds exploring protections and policies from an institutional or organisational level, instead of an individual level, to be an effective way to align with a ‘Do No Harm’ approach. Observing the existence of anti-discrimination policies or legal frameworks that recognise and provide safety measures, the LGBTQIA+ community can provide sentinel indicators that ensure programmes are monitoring the impact of their work on LGBTQIA+ people without putting them at undue risk. 

4. Fill the LGBTQIA+ inclusive development data gaps

Unsurprisingly, the gap in LGBTQIA+ data results in many practitioners facing major challenges when trying to inform programming. The lack of data and evidence is not just an issue at the Activity level, it is integral to effective market systems development overall. To fill the gap, practitioners need to work together to share insights, lessons learned, and effective strategies.

“There’s a huge opportunity for development practitioners, including myself who identifies as part of this community, to grow in their application and implementation of LGBTQIA+ plus inclusive development.” Branden Ryan

Branden explains that even though gender analyses are now (mostly) the norm in USAID-funded programmes, layering additional lenses for youth, migrants, persons with disabilities or the LGBTQIA+ community varies depending on context, programme scope, and (un)conscious biases of those conducting the analyses. Adding a LGBTQIA+ analysis is particularly important to understand the unique barriers and constraints they may face in terms of the legal system or social stigma.

The MSD, and international development community more broadly, has a long way to go to mainstream LGBTQIA+ inclusive development. However, Branden and Dun are both encouraged by the uptick in events designed to raise awareness and share lessons learned, such as this Agrilinks Farming Under the Rainbow Initiative webinar and the Inclusive Development Summit which has spurred the formation of a dedicated LGBTQIA+ community of practice.


 1 LGBTQIA+ is an inclusive term that includes people of all genders and sexualities, such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, queer, intersex, asexual, pansexual, and allies. While each letter in LGBTQIA+ stands for a specific group of people, the term encompasses the entire spectrum of gender fluidity and sexual identities.

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